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NNSA Authorizes Pantex to Begin Dismantlement of B53

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that it has authorized its Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, to begin dismantlement of the B53 weapons system.

The NNSA completed an extensive safety review that included approval of a Documented Safety Analysis and completion of a Nuclear Explosive Safety Study. This authorization means NNSA can now perform work on all weapons.

“Gaining authorization to begin dismantlement of the B53 is a significant step forward for NNSA and the nation,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook. “It confirms NNSA’s commitment to support President Obama’s goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons and their role in the U.S. national security strategy. Completion of the SS-21 project for the B53 marks the first time in over a decade that NNSA has the required authorizations in place to work on all nuclear weapon types in our nation’s inventory.”

The B53 weapons system, which was introduced into the stockpile in 1962, served a key role in the United States’ nuclear deterrent until its final retirement in 1997. The B53 was built at Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Burlington, Iowa. The B53 is one of the longest lived weapons ever fielded. This megaton-class weapon is about the size of a mini-van and weighs approximately 10,000 pounds. Its sheer size and weight provided many challenges for the project team responsible for developing a dismantlement process that meets the requirements of NNSA’s Seamless Safety for the 21st Century (SS-21) process.

The dismantlement of the B53 weapon system is consistent with President Obama’s goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons. In a speech last April in Prague, the President said “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

As a key part of its national security mission, NNSA is responsible for safely dismantling weapons that are no longer needed and disposing of the excess material and components. The dismantlement process includes four steps: retiring a weapon from service; returning it to NNSA’s Pantex Plant; taking it apart by physically separating the high explosives from the special nuclear material; and processing the material and components, reuse, demilitarization, sanitization, recycling, and ultimate disposal.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.